One of the problems some local government officials in Lianga are eying with concern nowadays is the slow yet persistent proliferation of youth gangs not only among the town's out-of-school minors but now even more alarmingly among young students in the various schools in the municipality. This is an issue I had already discussed in a previous blog post but even then I did not, at that time, had a clear picture of the extent and scope of the situation.
Lianga is host to several government and private high schools as well as the Lianga campus of the Surigao del Sur Polytechnic State College. All provide student populations essentially vulnerable to the entry and recruitment of youth gangs and similar organizations.
Lianga has always been proud to consider itself a deeply conservative town with a population steeped in the culture and traditions of its predominantly Catholic Christian faith. Thus it has always been an accepted article of faith even nowadays that its youth, Catholic or otherwise, growing up and schooled in the many local schools are being reared in an atmosphere emphasizing the deep adherence to the traditions of filial obedience and subservience as well as the "good manners and right conduct" expected of well-bred up Filipino children.
But Lianga is also a town and community, once isolated and insulated from the outside world, but now being caught up in the vast sea of change brought about by modernization and progress. Inevitably, under such a situation, all manner of influences, both desirable and undesirable find their way in. Finding out which is which and deciding what to do about them is a job many local town and community leaders are finding close to impossible to do.
What is even worrying more than the emergence and growth of these gangs is the mindset and "ideology" that they seek to inculcate in their recruits. Not only are these gangs extremely violence oriented and emphasize absolute loyalty to their peers rather than to their families and communities, they teach their members to casually commit crimes while believing in their legal immunity from normal arrest and incarceration because of the fact that as minors they are entitled to special treatment under the law.
Thus members of such groups like the BLOODS and CREEPS nonchalantly flaunt their contempt for the law knowing that even if they are caught red-handed violating them, the most that usually can be done by the police about it is to turn the culprits over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for counseling and temporary custody. Gang members, to illustrate the point, who persist in staying out in the streets in defiance of the 10PM to 6PM local curfew for minors often arrogantly face off police and civilian volunteers enforcing the so called "safety hours" confident of the special protection they enjoy as a matter of right under Philippine law.
Another worrisome aspect of youth gang activity involves the physical and sexual abuse of young recruits both male and female as part of their initiation or admission rituals. Civilian volunteers working with the local police in monitoring gang activities have documented several cases involving the gang rape of teenage prospective gang members. In most cases, the victims and their families have preferred to keep quiet about the incidents and have not pressed legal charges against gang leaders and their cohorts.
The need for a concerted effort now by local town authorities to combat the spread of these youth gangs is essential since all of them are, in fact, still in their early stages of development. There is also a need for local school authorities to red flag these gangs and similar organizations and institute measures to discourage their growth and expansion. Part of the reason, I think, that this problem has become such a serious cause for concern is that youth delinquency has always been traditionally considered more within the purview of parents and families and less the responsibility of the local government and the school system.
This kind of thinking may have to change in view of the growing seriousness of this problem among the Lianga youth. And local government officials who have not yet taken cognizance of potential of youth gangs to become a serious peace and order problem in this community will have to take heed of the warnings of the many community leaders who have been speaking out more and more about the issue.
The time to take action is now before the problem really gets out of hand.